OBG talks to Maria Ángela Holguín, Minister of Foreign Affairs

Maria Ángela Holguín, Minister of Foreign Affairs

Interview: Maria Ángela Holguín

What is being done to enhance relations with Asian countries, including through the Pacific Alliance?

MARIA ANGELA HOLGUIN: Our ties with Asian powers such as China, South Korea and Japan have grown significantly in recent years. In the last few years, we have received the leaders from Korea and Japan and have sent more than 20 diplomatic missions to China. This helped our commercial relations to the point of signing a free trade agreement with Korea and negotiating an economic partnership agreement with Japan. Dialogues with China are focused on trade and investment issues. Together, these three countries have invested more than $500m in Colombia in the past 10 years.

Through the Pacific Alliance, we are looking closely at the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), as we see opportunities for trade and investment of mutual benefit. South-east Asia is a market of 604m people, with a GDP of more than $2.34trn and total trade of $2.4trn. We find in that region some of the most dynamic emerging economies in the world, such as Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

For these reasons, Colombia has strengthened its institutional presence in 2014 by reopening diplomatic missions in Thailand and Indonesia, and by opening missions in Vietnam and Singapore. We have also strengthened our collaboration through the Forum for East Asia-Latin America Cooperation.

How can the strengthened ties with the EU and US be leveraged in Colombia?

HOLGUIN: We have diversified the themes of our agenda with these countries and included conversations on human rights, security, environment, energy, education, science and technology, telecommunications, and infrastructure, among others. On the commercial front, the entry into force of the free trade agreements has opened new opportunities in niche markets that do not necessarily compete with the characteristics of the Asian market. Besides this, Europe is in the process of eliminating tourist visas for Colombians visiting the Schengen area. This will strengthen relations with the EU in many ways. In the short term, tourism inflows from Europe will increase. Several new European airlines have started flying directly to Colombia. From July 2014, Portuguese and British airlines have expanded the range of options for travelling to Europe.

What is your perspective on foreign policy in South America as a whole?

HOLGUIN: Colombia's foreign policy on South America has two specific goals. First, we intend to maintain and deepen relationships with neighbouring countries, with an emphasis on the welfare of people in the border areas. Second, we are working to establish key commitments with other countries in the region. These are countries where we constantly seek opportunities for Colombians. Therefore, we are seeking to resolve migration issues and promote educational agreements, particularly in Brazil and Argentina. There is also the great dynamism of Colombian entrepreneurs travelling throughout South America, and we consider it important to facilitate their activities. Similarly, Colombian companies have a growing interest in the region.

How important are relations with Venezuela, and how might events in that country affect Colombia?

HOLGUIN: Colombia shares a 2200-mile border with Venezuela, implying high activity and large numbers of people, including the many Venezuelans that live in Colombia. It is therefore of permanent interest to maintain a fluid dialogue to ensure people’s welfare on either side of the border. Historically, Venezuela has also been one of our most important trading partners. We have maintained constant cooperation under the precepts of respect for the sovereignty and ideological differences of states, while preserving the vision of working together in areas of mutual interest. We recognise that our entrepreneurs had to diversify their markets due to changes in Venezuelan policy, which removed the advantages and opportunities they enjoyed in the past.

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